Over the years David Cameron has had more personal than Barbie and Action Man put together. In short order we have met ‘Compassionate Dave’ the man who wanted to detoxify the Tory brand by hugging huskies; ‘Concerned Dave’ the man who was going to nurse the economy back to health like a vet tending to a much loved family pet; and, since the riots we’ve had ‘Self Righteous Dave’ thundering like an old testament patriarch about the behaviour of the feral underclass.
This week in his address the to Conservative Party conference in Manchester he unveiled his latest incarnation, ‘Churchillian Dave’ (policies not included), the man who will lift the country out of the doldrums with the sheer force of his personality. Along the way he will stiffen our sinews by urging us to ‘show some fight’ and to avoid being ‘paralyzed by gloom and fear’ in the face of looming economic disaster.
Speaking about the fragile world economy he said ‘As we meet here in Manchester the threat to the world economy and to Britain is as serious today as it was in 2008’, and that ‘the Eurozone is in crisis, the French and German economies have slowed to a standstill; even mighty America is being questioned about her debts.’
Crikey! Gloomy times indeed, the Autumn of 2011, it seems, is like all those other autumns when plucky little HMS Britain has had to make headway through a sea of troubles, thank god we’ve got a square jawed hero in the shape of Captain Cameron lashed to the mast.
Even tough, as he noted, ‘nobody wants false optimism’ out latter day Nelson can see sunlight and calm water ahead because thanks to the economic plan followed by his government ‘slowly but surely we’re laying the foundations for a better future, but this is the crucial point it will only work if we stick with it.’ All that is needed for things to come right is for people to adopt a ‘can do attitude’ and show a little ‘British spirit’.
An hour or so of such sentiments repeated endlessly were rounded off with an exhortation for the country to ‘show the world some fight. Lets pull together, work together and together we will lead Britain to better days.’ For an encore maybe we can teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.
Anyone listening to the Prime Minister’s speech last Wednesday in the hope of divining the future direction of the government he leads would have been sorely disappointed because it was alarmingly light on policy announcements. There will be another 90,000 places for young people on the National Citizen Service programme, all very worthy, but most of those young people would probably rather get a job or training place instead.
There is also going to be a consultation into whether or not to legalise gay marriage, something that David Cameron and his advisors think is very daring and metropolitan. In the real world most people could answer question posed by an expensive consultation in ten seconds flat by giving the idea a resounding affirmative. These days only the boys and girls in the Westminster bubble feel the need to congratulate themselves for being grown up enough to accept there is more than one kind of stable relationship.
Although it pains me to say it this was the best conference speech of the season. Where Nick Clegg was too compromised to be taken seriously and Ed Milliband sucked the air out of the room with his lack of charisma David Cameron gave a faultless performance. The trouble is that’s all it was, a performance; so much smoke and mirrors signifying nothing.
The real story was happening elsewhere, in the blithe reduction by Home Secretary Theresa May of the debate over the creation of a UK Bill of Rights into a tabloid squabble over whether or not an illegal immigrant was allowed to stay in the country because he owned a cat. Justice Secretary Ken Clarke was right to call her comments ‘childish’, he forgot though to mention that they were also decidedly dangerous.
It was also to be found in the complacent assertion by Chancellor George Osborne that the government is going to plough on with its deficit reduction plans even though they are harming the economy. By the end of the week twelve UK banks had had their credit rating downgraded by Moody’s and Mervyn King, looking for all the world like an economist who had just been goosed by the ‘invisible hand’ had been forced to announce a £75billion QE package.
The message to be taken from David Cameron’s conference speech isn’t the one he might have hoped to put over about battling through against the odds. It is one about a government that has fallen into the deadly trap of thinking that only by showing that the ‘aren’t for turning’ can they be considered strong. Even though in reality leadership is about performing a series of complicated handbrake turns to avoid colliding with an immovable object that exists to prove there is no such thing as an irresistible force.